Financial collapse threatens real journalism

by David Horsey, Post-Intelligencer

In a week when Congress was consumed by debate over the best way to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to revive the economy and bail out bankers, one ailing industry was being left to fend for itself: newspapers.

Arguably, newspapers are as vital to American democracy as banks are to the American financial system. Yet the implosion of the news business is the most underreported story amid the great flood of bad economic news.

Still, the sad state of the business is on the minds of every journalist in this town. Tuesday night, I attended the National Press Foundation's 26th annual awards dinner. It was at the same event 10 years ago in the same ballroom at the Washington Hilton that I received my first major national prize, the Berryman Award for Cartoonist of the Year. That honor was the harbinger of even bigger things to come in my career, so I arrived in a wave of happy nostalgia.

Four hours later, I left depressed. The banquet had been more a wake than a celebration. Speaker after speaker talked about the crisis in American journalism, or more precisely, the crisis in the business model that has successfully supported American journalism until just the past few years.

Leonard Downie Jr., the former executive editor of The Washington Post, spoke about how happy he was that his career had spanned a golden age in journalism and how sad he was that the golden age was over. ABC news anchor Charlie Gibson said the person who will deserve all the awards in the future will be the guy who figures out a new way to make money delivering the news.

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The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey